A condensed 2020 schedule made for an extremely busy rookie season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for Alex Palou.
But the offseason has been even more hectic.
Five days after the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Oct. 25, Palou was introduced as the newest driver at Chip Ganassi Racing.
Three days after that, Palou was behind the wheel of the No. 10 Honda for the first time at a test session at Barber Motorsports Park.
“It’s been a crazy couple of days,” Palou said. “The first day I got into (Ganassi’s Indianapolis) shop was the day it got announced. I had two days meeting everybody; I don’t remember half of the names. I learned how the system works, how the car works and in testing, we got our first laps in the car and everything went well. We’re ready to go.”
Forced to learn on the fly in 2020, Palou took the same approach as he went from driving for Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh to Chip Ganassi Racing as he prepares for his second season in INDYCAR in 2021.
“It’s really strange because you are used to working with one group of people and now, I’m working for another (group) and it’s only been less than two weeks since the last race,” Palou said. “Then, it’s also strange when I’m coming into the pits and I’m looking for the No. 10 pit now instead of the No. 55.
“It’s weird, but it’s a good weird. You always look at those (Ganassi drivers) and the Penske guys because they are the references and now, I’m one of them, so it’s really cool.”
The 23-year-old from Barcelona, Spain had a solid first season in INDYCAR. He finished 16th in the standings and scored third- and seventh-place finishes in the REV Group Grand Prix doubleheader at Road America. But it was the Indianapolis 500 that Palou called his season highlight.
“Indy 500 qualifying was my best moment,” he said. “We had a really good week of testing and qualifying as well. It was only my second race on an oval and it was crazy to be out there fighting with the big teams and experienced guys. But the podium at Road America was great. Everyone on the team was super happy. But, Indy 500 was something special.”
It was also at the Indianapolis that the prospect of driving for Chip Ganassi began to develop.
“We did the job and did it properly, but nobody expected this,” Palou said. “It started around the Indianapolis 500. That is the first time I introduced myself to Chip Ganassi (Racing). From there, they were keeping an eye on us.
“It was a week before St. Pete that everything started to come together. After that, it was very quick. These things are always the same – you talk a little bit; you have the first talks. Everything settles down and you focus on the season that is going on. Then, it’s ‘We have to move forward. We have a test in 14 days. Let’s do it.’
“I’m super glad I got the ride.”
At Dale Coyne Racing, Palou was with one of the most efficient operations in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. It has a smaller budget than the power teams but still delivers impressive results. Now, Palou is on Ganassi’s team, which has plenty of resources that can help take him to victory in 2021.
“Dale is amazing with what he is able to achieve with the resources the team has and then you come here on this team with a big team and they get you the resources you need to win,” Palou said. “You come here and are expected to win and nothing else.
“The car is a lot different. I felt really comfortable in my first test. It was a new track, new car and about getting up to speed slowly and building confidence. The car has the details to really be quick and hopefully, we can do that on track.”
Palou also joins forces with some of the most accomplished drivers in American motorsports. Scott Dixon is a six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion while another Ganassi newcomer, Jimmie Johnson – who will drive the No. 48 Carvana Honda at the road and street circuits on the 2021 schedule – is a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion. Former Formula One driver Marcus Ericsson also returns to the expanded, four-car team next year.
“It’s crazy to be able to look at Scott’s data, look at it, hear what he thinks about the car and testing and talk about all of that with a seven-time Cup champion,” Palou said. “We also have (three-time Indy 500 winner) Dario Franchitti there to look at what everybody on the team is doing and to look at the data. It was really cool and awesome to be working with these big names.”
With just two months left in the calendar year, there is plenty of work for Palou to accomplish with his new team. A trip to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca will be the final test of this year (Nov. 10). After that, Palou will be looking for a new residence after spending 2020 in Austin, Texas.
“We will have a week to really learn everything from the first test and put a test on what we have to approve on driving and car balancing,” Palou said. “Then, I have to look at some more apartments in Indy. I’m moving to Indy at the beginning of next year.
“If things look good, maybe I’ll get to go back to Spain for Christmas.”